Every generation the wide world of corporate sports
produces an athlete with the iron resolve and moral
urgency to step off their pedestal and join the fight
for social justice. A century ago, it was boxer Jack
Johnson, flaunting, as WEB DuBois put it, "his
unforgivable blackness." In the 1930s, "the Brown
Bomber" Joe Louis and track star Jesse Owens took
turns spitting in Hitler's eyes, and Mildred Babe
Didrikson continued to show that a woman could be the
equal - if not superior – of any man. In the 1940s and
50s, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and the Brooklyn
Dodgers advanced the cause of civil rights through the transgressive act of the multi-racial double play. In the 1960s, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, David Meggyesy, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos showed how mass struggle could ricochet into the world of sports with electric results. In the 1970s, Billie Jean King used a wicked forehand, and took to the streets, to demand equal rights for women, and Curt Flood showed the labor movement - and the bosses - how to go from crumbs to a bigger piece of the pie. In the 1980’s Martina Navratilova came out of the closet and onto center court, with her girlfriend on her sinewy arm in plain view of all.
Today we may just have a figure to join their ranks in
the NBA’s Etan Thomas. Regular readers of this column
will know that I have interviewed the Washington
Wizards' Power Forward on numerous occasions and
highlighted his views on everything from the death
penalty to the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. He is
also the author of a book of poems called More Than An
But this past weekend, Etan made a play for pantheon
status. Etan took it to that Ali level, by delivering
a blistering poetical speech as part of the weekend’s
antiwar demonstrations in Washington DC. His
contribution, which was played in its entirety on
Democracy Now!, is being hailed as “the best of the
day” in various nooks and crannies of the blogosphere.
Here is the transcript. Read and pass it along – it
has the power to topple tyrants.
“Giving all honor, thanks and praises to God for
courage and wisdom, this is a very important rally.
I'd like to thank you for allowing me to share my
thoughts, feelings and concerns regarding a tremendous
problem that we are currently facing. This problem is universal, transcending race, economic background, religion, and culture, and this problem is none other than the current administration which has set up shop in the White House.
In fact, I'd like to take some of these cats on a
field trip. I want to get big yellow buses with no air conditioner and no seatbelts and round up Bill O'Reilly, Pat Buchanan, Trent Lott, Sean Hannity, Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, Bush Jr. and Bush Sr., John Ashcroft, Giuliani, Ed Gillespie, Katherine Harris, that little bow-tied Tucker Carlson and any other right-wing conservative Republicans I can think of, and take them all on a trip to the ‘hood. Not to do no 30-minute documentary. I mean, I want to drop them off and leave them there, let them become one with the other side of the tracks, get them four mouths to feed and no welfare, have scare tactics run through them like a laxative, criticizing them for needing assistance.
I’d show them working families that make too much to
receive welfare but not enough to make ends meet. I’d
employ them with jobs with little security, let them
know how it feels to be an employee at will, able to
be fired at the drop of a hat. I’d take away their opportunities, then try their children as adults, sending their 13-year-old babies to life in prison. I’d sell them dreams of hopelessness while spoon-feeding their young with a daily dose of inferior education. I’d tell them no child shall be left behind, then take more money out of their schools, tell them to show and prove themselves on standardized exams testing their knowledge on things that they haven’t been taught, and then I’d call them inferior.
I’d soak into their interior notions of endless
possibilities. I’d paint pictures of assisted
productivity if they only agreed to be all they can
be, dress them up with fatigues and boots with
promises of pots of gold at the end of rainbows, free
education to waste terrain on those who finish their
bid. Then I’d close the lid on that barrel of fool’s
gold by starting a war, sending their children into
the midst of a hostile situation, and while they're
worried about their babies being murdered and slain in
foreign lands, I’d grace them with the pain of being
sick and unable to get medicine.
Give them health benefits that barely cover the common
cold. John Q. would become their reality as HMOs
introduce them to the world of inferior care, filling
their lungs with inadequate air, penny pinching at the
expense of patients, doctors practicing medicine in an intricate web of rationing and regulations. Patients wander the maze of managed bureaucracy, costs rise and quality quickly deteriorates, but they say that managed care is cheaper. They’ll say that free choice in medicine will defeat the overall productivity, and as co-payments are steadily rising, I'll make their grandparents have to choose between buying their medicine and paying their rent.
Then I'd feed them hypocritical lines of being
pro-life as the only Christian way to be. Then very contradictingly, I’d fight for the spread of the death penalty, as if thou shall not kill applies to babies but not to criminals.
Then I’d introduce them to those sworn to protect and
serve, creating a curb in their trust in the law. I’d
show them the nightsticks and plungers, the pepper
spray and stun guns, the mace and magnums that they’d
soon become acquainted with, the shakedowns and
illegal search and seizures, the planted evidence,
being stopped for no reason. Harassment ain’t even the
half of it. Forty-one shots to two raised hands, cell
phones and wallets that are confused with illegal
contrabands. I’d introduce them to pigs who love
making their guns click like wine glasses. Everlasting
targets surrounded by bullets, making them a walking
bull's eye, a living piñata, held at the mercy of
police brutality, and then we’ll see if they finally
weren’t aware of the truth, if their eyes weren’t
finally open like a box of Pandora.
I’d show them how the other side of the tracks carries
the weight of the world on our shoulders and how
society seems to be holding us down with the force of
a boulder. The bird of democracy flew the coop back in
Florida. See, for some, and justice comes in packs
like wolves in sheep's clothing. T.K.O.'d by the right
hooks of life, many are left staggering under the
weight of the day, leaning against the ropes of hope.
When your dreams have fallen on barren ground, it
becomes difficult to keep pushing yourself forward
like a train, administering pain like a doctor with a
needle, their sequels continue more lethal than
They keep telling us all is equal. I’d tell them that
instead of giving tax breaks to the rich, financing
corporate mergers and leading us into unnecessary wars
and under-table dealings with Enron and Halliburton,
maybe they can work on making society more peaceful.
Instead, they take more and more money out of inner
city schools, give up on the idea of rehabilitation
and build more prisons for poor people. With
unemployment continuing to rise like a deficit, it's
no wonder why so many think that crime pays.
Maybe this trip will make them see the error of their
ways. Or maybe next time, we'll just all get out and
vote. And as far as their stay in the White House,
tell them that numbered are their days.”
Dave Zirin's new book "'What's My Name, Fool?': Sports
and Resistance in the United States" [Haymarket Books]
is available now. Check out his writings at
edgeofsports.com. Contact the author at